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International Journal of Existential

Psychology & Psychotherapy

WHAT HELPS AND WHAT HINDERS


THESIS COMPLETION:
A CRITICAL INCIDENT STUDY*
Jane C. W. Ho
Graduate Program in Counselling
Psychology
Trinity Western University
Lilian C. J. Wong & Paul T. P.
Wong
Direct Correspondence to:
Lilian C. J. Wong, B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D.
Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute,
Inc.
13 Ballyconnor Court
Toronto, ON M2M 4C5
Email: liliancj@rogers.com
*This paper is mainly based on the Masters
thesis of the first author at Trinity Western
University with Lilian Wong as the primary
supervisor and Paul Wong as the second reader
Abstract
The purpose of this study was to discover what helped and what hindered thesis completion in order to provide helpful guidelines for graduate students and
supervisors. The methodology used was
based on Flanagans (1954) critical incident technique. The participants were
Masters and Ph.D. students (N=20) who
either were in the process of completing
their theses or had just completed their
theses. The semi-structured interviews
were audio tape-recorded and transcribed
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verbatim for content analysis. The results


yielded 435 meaning units, from which19
facilitating and 17 hindering themes were
extracted. At least 50% of the participants
stated the following facilitating themes:
students positive qualities; support from
supervisor, family and friends; access to
resources; a supportive and stimulating
climate for thesis work; and supervisors
positive qualities. The main hindering
themes included: distractions from thesis
research; difficult data related processes;
lack of understanding of the thesis writing process; and students and supervisors
personal qualities. Counselling implications for these findings were discussed.
Thesis or dissertation remains the central
requirement of graduate education for most
universities for a variety of reasons. Glatthorn
(1998) explained that thesis writing helped
students learn about themselves and their researched areas. Owen and Burke (2004) maintained that thesis research prepared students
for academic careers. Furthermore, thesis research is an essential component for the scientist-practitioner model of counselling and
clinical education; therefore, the experience
of conducting thesis research not only enables
them to master a psychological topic, but also
gives them greater appreciation of the need for
evidence-based psychological practices.
Several books have been published to provide tips on thesis completion (e.g., Swetnam,
1995; Davis & Parker, 1997; Glatthorn, 1998).
Yet, thesis completion remains a problem for
many graduate students. There are still numerous ABDs (All But Dissertations). Garcia,
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Malott, and Brethower (1988) provided evidence that many graduate students dropped
out or delayed their graduation because of
thesis incompletion. There are no statistics in
Canada on these students (Surrey, 2003). In
American graduate schools, approximately 50
% of doctoral students fail to complete the programs for whatever reason (Myers, 1999, p. 2).
Most universities have a time-limit policy for
thesis or degree completion. Therefore, delay in
thesis completion may result in a student being expelled from the graduate program. This
can be devastating for graduate students who
have invested so much of their time, money
and energy without receiving a graduate degree. This also means waste of institutional resources and a reduction in producing scientists
to meet market demands. The purpose of this
study was to discover factors that facilitate or
hinder thesis completion in order to provide
evidence-based guidelines for both graduate
students and their supervisors.
Factors that hinder thesis completion
Research (Morton & Worthley, 1995)
showed several factors which hinder thesis
completion, such as student employment, difficulty to balance between personal and academic lives, and insufficient training for thesis
research. In their study, the most negative aspects of the thesis experience in the order of
seriousness were: problems within the thesis
committee, the unwieldy administrative bureaucracy and complexity of the process, the
time-consuming nature of the research process, and the fact that the process became more
complex than necessary (p. 350).

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Rennie and Brewer (1987) coined the


term thesis blocking. This phenomenon typically included a situation wherein the interviewees had (a) finished their graduate coursework; (b) found the experience of working on
the thesis more negative than rewarding; (c)
according to their own estimates, spent an inordinate amount of time working on the thesis; and (d) considered themselves to have experienced thesis blocking (p. 11). Some of the
contributing factors to thesis block included
the lack of a clear and realistic research project
and a perfectionist tendency.
Rennie and Brewer (1987) concluded
that the key to thesis completion was students
perception of themselves as having a sense of
control. The nonblockers tended to function independently while seeking help and
emotional support when needed. They tended
to find meaning in their thesis research, and
were actively involved in turning the political
games to their advantage. The blockers on
the other hand, tended to get stuck in the dependent mode. They were either unaware of or
un-interested in the political games related to
the thesis process. The blockers generally had
difficulties complying with deadlines.
Procrastination is another relevant factor. Haskins (1988) found that procrastinators remain longer in the perceiving mode
... expressing the need for more data (p. 38).
Non-procrastinators were more likely to be in
the judging mode, and they were concerned
about moving towards the outcome. Students
age might also be related to procrastination.
Stogner, Kosenko, Roche, Parks, and Barber
(2003) compared academic procrastination
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level between traditional and non-traditional


college students. They reported that traditional students were more likely to procrastinate
than the older non-traditional students, who
also had a significantly higher overall grade
point average. Wong (1998a) pointed out that
younger students tend to attend university
because of external pressure and social interest, and older students are more likely to attend university for intrinsic reasons (p.281).
Therefore, older non-traditional students tend
to do better academically and are less likely to
procrastinate.
There is research evidence that difficulties with the thesis committee have a direct negative impact on thesis completion.
For example, Glatthorn (1998) identified the
following problems: lack of prompt feedback,
conflicting and inconsistent feedback, and unhelpful advice. A worse case scenario would
be that the relationship between a committee
member and the graduate student deteriorates
to a point where it actually jeopardizes thesis
completion. Glatthorn (1998) also identified
personal problems that students might experience at different stages of the thesis process;
these included a change in career plans, financial limitations, feelings of insecurity and
anxiety, difficulties in data gathering, and criticisms of the earlier drafts. Most of these personal difficulties stem from self-doubt.
Myers (1999) interviewed 11 doctoral
candidates who had completed all degree requirements except dissertation research. Myers identified the following reasons for failing
to complete the dissertation: time, financial
management, professional obligations and
various personal aspects (p. 63). The lack of
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information and resources to address financial


difficulties was clearly a secondary causal factor.
Factors that facilitate thesis completion
Morton and Worthley (1995) pointed out
that a good working relationship with the faculty and the opportunity of learning how to
think were some of the positive elements of
thesis research. Dillon, Kent, & Malott (1980)
reported the benefits of a structured supervisory system which included a written task
specification, weekly deadlines, weekly monitoring, weekly feedback, and added incentives.
A structured Thesis Completion Program has
been implemented at the University of Victoria (Parsons, 2003). This program is based on
the observation that graduate students need a
moderate level of structure to guide them to set
realistic goals with clear deadlines. The Thesis
Completion Group meets every other week
to discuss their goals and progress as well as
to identify and solve any problems that might
have been raised along the way.
Studies have also identified supervisor-supervisee interaction to be another factor (Markle, 1977). When supervisors were
accessible, they were perceived by students as
being helpful. Fenton (2002) suggested that
a good writing environment would also help;
by writing regularly in this setting, [one] will
establish good writing patterns essential for
thesis completion (p. 1).
Some general considerations
Surrey (2003) has identified five themes
in his study on thesis completion:
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(1) Individual advisors tend to recommend a


dissertation process with which they are
familiar and comfortable. Thus, professors who prefer qualitative methods will
recommend the same to their students.
(2) Faculty members have different ideas
regarding the amount of advising that
students need. Similarly, there are individual differences among students
some prefer independence, while others
appreciate hand-holding. There will be
less conflict when there is a match between supervisor and supervisee regarding the amount of supervision.
(3) Administrative expectations also have
considerable influence on the dissertation process. Clear departmental guidelines and administrative roles will facilitate dissertation completion.
(4) Departmental politics and personality
conflicts between faculty, and the pressure experienced by untenured faculty
all can affect the thesis process.
(5) Maximum time limit set for each program affects the dissertation process.
For doctoral degrees, the time limit varies from 5 to 7 years. For masters degrees, it ranges from 2 to 5 years.
The most important general factor is
probably the supervisor-supervisee relationship. Schlosser and Gelso (2001) stated that
advisor-advisee relationship can have a strong
influence (both positive and negative) on advisee development as a scientist (p. 157). They
developed the Advisory Working Alliance
Inventory (AWAI) to measure this from the
graduate students perspective. They defined
advisory working alliance as the portion
of the relationship that reflects the connecwww.ExistentialPsychology.org

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tion between advisor and advisee that is made


during work toward common goals (p. 158).
They reported a positive relation between
the AWAI and measures of advisee research
self-efficacy and attitudes toward research, as
well as the perceived expertness, attractiveness,
and trustworthiness of the advisor (p. 157).
Schlosser, Knox, Moskovitz, and Hill (2003)
also emphasized that the graduate advising relationship could profoundly affect a graduate
students professional development. When supervisors and supervisees have a good rapport,
process conflict openly, and work together to
facilitate the advisees progress as an emerging professional (p. 186), students would have
greater professional success after graduation.
Given the importance of thesis completion, and the complexity of the process, more
research is needed. The present study focused
on the problem of thesis completion in a Canadian context, using a critical incident technique as originally developed by Flanagan
(1954). This method allows researchers to
map out what helps and what hinders in the
behavioral domain of thesis completion. For
an incident to be considered critical, Flanagan declared that [the] incident must occur
in a situation where the purpose or intent of
the act seems fairly clear to the observer and
where its consequences are sufficiently definite to leave little doubt concerning its effects
(p. 327). Woolsey (1986) emphasizes that this
technique can be readily applied to research in
counselling psychology, because it focuses on
actual activities or events that have critical or
significant impacts on specific and well defined
outcomes under investigation. In the present
study, the outcome would be thesis completion. The critical incident technique has been
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applied effectively in counselling psychology


research with graduate students. For example,
L. Wong (2000) examined what helped and
what hindered clinical supervision of visible
minority graduate students. Mah (1991) studied what facilitated and what hindered adjustment for graduate students in counselling
psychology. Both studies were able to map out
actual behaviors and attitudes that had a positive or negative impact on the outcome under
investigation.
Method
Participants
The participants consisted of one Ph.D.
and 19 Masters students who either were in
the process of completing their theses or had
completed their theses in the last year. They
were recruited through the first authors personal contacts with graduate students, and
advertising in various universities in Canadas
West Coast. There were 11 men and 9 women,
ranging in age from 23 to 36 years old. The
mean age was 27.8 years. Nine of the participants were in Counselling Psychology and
Developmental Psychology, while eleven majored in natural sciences. Among the participants, 9 were Caucasian, 8 were Chinese, one
was Dutch/Italian, one was Japanese/Italian
and one was Iranian. All the participants were
interviewed by the first author.
Procedures
Efforts to recruit participants began as
soon as the research project was approved by
the universitys Research Ethics Board. The
first authors e-mail address was listed on the
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advertising flyers along with other information


about the present research. Individuals who
met the sampling requirement of being either
in the process of doing their theses or having
recently completed their theses, were asked to
send their contact information to the authors
e-mail address. All of the potential participants
were contacted through their preferred method
of contact to further explain the purpose of the
study, what was required of them, and the level
of confidentiality and anonymity that would
be respected. Once an individual agreed to
take part, an interview appointment was made
at a time convenient to the participant and in a
quiet place for quality audio tape-recording.
At the beginning, the interviewer provided more information about the study and
answered any further questions that the participant might have. Then the participant was
asked to sign an informed consent prior to
the interview. Sample interview questions are
presented in Appendix A. The interviews were
about half an hour each and were audio taperecorded for content analysis to identify and
classify critical incidents. At the end of the interview, a token of appreciation (i.e.,a travellers mug) was given to each participant.
Content Analysis
For the data analysis process, the researcher
followed the seven steps developed by L.Wong
(2000) as follows:
1.Read over some of the transcripts and
listen to some of the recorded interview
sessions to get the general sense of the
scope and variety of the contents.
2.Identify positive and negative incidents
respectively.
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3.Identify the relevant meaning units


(those that have direct bearing on the
experience of thesis completion) by
bracketing them with pencil.
4.Create a descriptor for each relevant
meaning unit by writing them on the
margins of the transcripts accordingly.
5.Create a database for all of the relevant
meaning units with their respective descriptors.
6.Group the descriptors with highly similar meanings into themes.
7.Combine similar themes under broader
categories.
The reliability test was conducted with
the following procedure. A counsellor who
had previous experience with critical incidents
methodology was invited to be the judge of
the coding scheme. A list of themes, definitions, and examples was given and explained to
her. About 10% of the incidents were randomly selected for her to sort, one at a time, into
different theme categories. An average of 84%
agreement was found over all of the themes.
General Observations during interviews
It is helpful to consider the stages of the
thesis research process. Logically, there are
three stages: (1) Beginning stage, (2) Work-

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ing stage, and (3) Finishing stage. Participants


in the Beginning stage had just finished their
thesis proposal and applied for ethics reviews.
Participants in the Working stage, after obtaining all the necessary approvals, are in the
process of recruiting participants, collecting
and analyzing data. Lastly, the Finishing stage
consists of actual writing and rewriting the
thesis, and preparing for thesis defense.
Although we did not have enough participants in all three stages of development for
meaningful comparison of themes, we found
it helpful to recognize the differences found
among participants in these three stages. For
example, those who were in their Beginning
stage tended to talk more about the problem
of getting the ethics approval or thesis proposal approval. Those who were in their Working
stage would talk more about difficulties with
recruiting participants or analyzing their data.
Those in the Finishing stage tended to focus on
the process of writing and revisions. It is very
important for administration and supervisors
to be sensitive to the unique needs of graduate
students in each stage of thesis research.
Summary of the results
There were 19 facilitating and 17 hindering themes as shown in Tables 1 and 2.

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Table 1 - Themes that facilitate thesis completion
Themes
Students positive qualities
Support from supervisor, family and
friends
Access to resources
A supportive and stimulating climate for thesis work
Supervisors positive qualities
External pressures from program, peers and supervisors
General preparation in research and
writing
Feeling passionate about thesis topic
Accountability with peers and supervisors
Positive interactions with supervisors
Financial support
Research course
General Courses
Financial constraints
Internal deadlines
Learning from others experiences
Approval from thesis committee and peers
Having plans after graduation
Doing physical exercises

% of participants*
80%
80%
65%
55%
50%
45%
45%
40%
40%
30%
25%
25%
20%
20%
20%
15%
15%
15%
10%

Frequency**
39
35
17
13
12
16
11
11
10
6
5
5
5
4
4
4
3
3
2

% of participants*
80%
60%
55%
50%
50%
40%
30%
25%
20%
20%
15%
15%
15%
15%
10%
10%
5%

Frequency**
26
17
18
18
18
14
7
5
5
4
4
4
3
3
3
3
2

Table 2 - Themes that hinder thesis completion


Themes
Distractions from thesis research
Lack of understanding of thesis writing
Difficulties in data collection
Students personal qualities
Supervisors personal qualities
Lack of external resources
Lack of support from peers, family, and supervisor
Scheduling difficulties with supervisory committee
A tense and uncomfortable environment
Too many deadlines and restriction
External pressures
Interpersonal conflicts
Financial needs
The length of thesis process
Lack of pressure from the department
Peers negative influence
Lack of plans

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Participants suggestions for change


Suggestions for change were drawn from
participants personal experience of what facilitated and hindered their thesis completion;

therefore, they are similar to the facilitating


and hindering themes found from the critical
incident interviews. Their recommendations
are shown in Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3 - Recommendations for supervisees

1. Set deadlines and stick to planned schedule


2. Manage your time and priority
3. Set goals for and after the program
4. Find support from peers, family and friends
5. Take advantage of available resources
6. Know your learning styles
7. Get to know your professors/supervisors
8. Find meaning in your thesis work
9. Do not procrastinate
10. Read, write and be prepared
11. Resolve conflicts quickly
12. Be organized
13. Exercise self-care
14. Be your own project/thesis manager
Table 4 - Recommendations for supervisors and administrators
1. Set Goals and timeline with the supervisees
2. Collaborate with other professors
3. Increase research-related courses; decrease irrelevant courses
4. Set up thesis proposal and writing as a course
5. Make resources more accessible online
6. Provide more explanations on ethics approval process
7. Enforce the program guidelines and deadlines
8. Provide opportunity for students to get to know their potential supervisors
9. Provide realistic time frame for the program
10. Minimize the number of supervised students for each supervisor
11. Provide more opportunities to learn from others
12. Provide more accessible resources and better equipment
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Discussion
The process of categorization identified 19
facilitating themes and 17 hindering themes.
Contrary to expectation, participants expressed
more positive experiences than negative ones
related to writing their theses. Valuable lessons
can be learned for both supervisors and students from the various positive and negative
themes.
Hindering Themes Related to Students
Many of the hindering themes found in
the present study were consistent with previous
research findings. The question of how much
structure was needed remained controversial.
Some participants complained that there were
Too many deadlines and restrictions in the
program. Other participants in this study felt
that there were not enough clearly stated deadlines. Morton and Worthley (1995) reported
that students resist the transition from structured coursework to a more autonomous, independently managed research process (p.350).
On the other hand, Rennie and Brewer (1987)
found that individuals who get stuck when
attempting to compose written material may
operate too rigidly within a set of rules adopted from external authority (p.11). The University of Victoria (Parsons, 2003) provided a
Thesis Completion Program to help graduate
students complete their thesis writing quickly
and effectively. This program is based on the
idea that a moderate level of structure is what
students need to complete their theses.
The students cultural background might
also influence their self-direction or structure
in completing academic tasks (Tweed & Lewww.ExistentialPsychology.org

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hman, 2002). They stated that Western students prefer self-direction in academic tasks
while culturally Chinese students prefer more
directions and structures from a competent
teacher or authorities (p. 95). Cultural differences can potentially affect students working relationship with their supervisors where
there is a mismatch in terms of expectations
and preference. The most frequent hindering
theme was Distraction from thesis research.
Distraction would include extra responsibilities outside the school, recreational activities,
and life events. Unlike the typical undergraduate student, graduate students tend to be older
and have more family responsibilities, if they
are married. For example, some female students take maternity leave or spend less time
on research because of giving birth and caring
for a baby. This problem of distraction from
thesis research may become more frequent due
to the increase in enrollment of nontraditional
students (e.g., women with families) in graduate studies.
Morton and Worthley (1995) also identified difficulties with balancing between personal and academic lives as a hindering factor
in students ability to complete their theses.
Glatthorn (1998) stated that towards the
end of students coursework, they might have
a change of career plans, values or priorities,
which could distract them from completing
their theses. Furthermore, in the research conducted by Myers (1999), it was found that 64%
of the participants stated that family or other personal obligations took time away from
working on [their] dissertation (p. 62). Myers
(1999) also found that 73% of the participants
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tion, because time was taken away from working on the dissertation.
Over 50% of the participants in the present study cited Lack of understanding of the
thesis writing process as a major hindrance
in thesis completion. Morton and Worthley
(1995) reported that some students were of
the opinion that the training provided within
their core courses may not prepare them adequately to design and complete a realistic
research project (p. 349). The lack of understanding can also be due to graduate students
insufficient research background. For example,
the student may have come from a different
discipline and have not received sufficient
training in research methodology.
Another important hindering theme is
Students personal qualities. Glatthorn (1998)
suggested that fear arising from the lack of
knowledge and from their own insecurity (p.
211) may hinder thesis.completion. Myers
(1999) found that participants ranked frustration and/or loss of interest (p. 61) the biggest barrier to the doctoral degree completion.
The frustration, negative feedback, difficult relationship with the supervisor, or a change of
interest, could easily make the student lose the
initial enthusiasm he or she had for the project.
From our experiences with graduate students,
we find that a certain amount of personal maturity is needed to handle frustrations, setbacks, and negative feedback in a constructive
manner. More importantly, as suggested by
some of the participants in the present study,
graduate students need to be their own thesis project managers by taking responsibilities
for their thesis progress. Rennie and Brewer
(1987) stated that when students do not gain
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control over their thesis projects, they tend to


get stuck in the dependent mode. This can be
discouraging and even paralyzing for students
who are already starting to lose interest.
Hindering Themes Related to Supervisors
Supervisors personal qualities and
Interpersonal conflicts are hindering themes
related to supervisors. Negative behaviours
and attribute of supervisors, such as having no
time for supervisees, too demanding, delaying in giving feedback, changing experimental procedures mid-stream, inconsistent feedbacks, would contribute to dissatisfaction and
conflict. In the midst of their busyness with
research, teaching and administration, professors often do not take the time to explain to
supervisees clearly what is expected. Professors need to consider the fact that frequent
changes, especially ill-thought-out impulsive
changes, cause delay in thesis completion. A
common source of conflict is the long delay in
providing feedback, which increases students
resentment towards to supervisor. Although
not documented, unfortunately there are many
reports of supervisor-supervisee conflicts. Both
supervisors and supervisees need to learn how
to prevent and resolve conflicts in order to facilitate thesis completion.
One of the participants in the present
study stated that his supervisor asked him
to redo the experiment so many times that
the thesis was completed two months after
the university-allotted time limit. Glatthorn
(1998) suggested talking to the committee
member directly about the problem or inviting
the committee chair to help mediate between
the two; but this may result in retaliation from
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the supervisor. It would be helpful to students


if administration would provide some kind of
mechanisms to protect graduate students from
unreasonable demands and abuse of power by
supervisors.
Hindering Themes as a Consequence of External Factors
Many of the participants in this study
stated that they experienced energy and time
loss for thesis work because they need to work
for pay. The theme of Financial constraints
has been reported by other researchers. Morton and Worthley (1995) agreed that many
students were unable to handle the financial
hardship of attending graduate schools. Glatthorn (1998) also listed financial limitations as
one of the personal problems students may experience. In another study, over 70% of the participants stated that personal finances were a
contributing factor to their not completing the
doctoral degree (Myers, 1999, p. 62). Spending too much time working as a teaching/research assistant or getting a full-time employment clearly slows down thesis completion,
Interestingly, receiving continued and generous funding may also serve as a disincentive
for students to complete their thesis research
quickly. Some supervisors might want to keep
their best graduate students as long as they
can, because these students are valuable assets
to the supervisors own research programs. In
some cases, these supervisors may deliberately
delay thesis completion by withholding feedback and making extra demands on their students, such as contributing to professors own
publications and conference presentations.
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The theme Peers negative influence


comes from the perceptions that their peers
are also having difficulties completing their
theses. Thus graduate students might feel that
their lack of progress is an acceptable norm.
A related hindering theme is The length of
thesis process is discouraging. The participants described the entire approval process,
from proposal, ethics approval, data collection,
and thesis defense as being too long and too
tedious. This finding was consistent with the
report by Morton and Worthley (1995) that
some of the negative aspects of students thesis
experience included the time-consuming nature of the research process, and the fact that
the process became more complex than necessary (p. 351).
Students are motivated when they have
a definite deadline for graduation, a goal to
strive for. This was implied by many of the participants in this study who stated that Lack
of plans for and after graduation is hindering.
Glatthorn (1998) presented another reason for
having definite plans after graduation because
many students described the time after their
thesis defense as postpartum depression...
with a general sense of emptiness [and] bleak
uncertainty (p.217). Without a clear sense
calling or life goal after graduation, students
may not be eager to venture out into the real
world, and therefore, delay their thesis progress.
Facilitating Themes
The theme Positive interactions with
supervisors is consistent with prior research.
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cilitating factor. Positive relationship is important in any kind of supervisory relationships.


When supervisees feel that their supervisors
are trustworthy, helpful and supportive, their
experience of supervision would be encouraging and rewarding. Feeling good about the
supervisory relationship will go a long way in
motivating students to overcome difficulties
and complete their thesis writing.
The theme of Learning from others experience corroborates Swetnams (1995) observation: When two previously unacquainted
thesis-writers discover each other, there is usually an instant connection. Both tacitly understand the pain, the hardships, the frustration of
pushing through a year-long project in a way
that no other peers can (p.1). Indeed, participants feel encouraged and inspired when they
witness their peers succeeding in completing
various thesis tasks and in their final oral defense. Thus, it is helpful to be around those
who are doing well in their thesis research.
Another study by Kennett and Stedwill
(1996) reported that students were able to
experience success and support from their
groups and come to see themselves as competent students and valued by their peers
(p.177). Their finding is consistent with the
theme accountability with peers and supervisors in the present study. Some of our participants stated that being involved in a peer thesis support group contributed to their thesis
completion. Such a group typically involved
three to four peers, meeting regularly to keep
each other accountable on thesis progress.
Group meetings also provided students a time
and place to vent their frustrations and stress.
Several participants from the present study
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also suggested that the accountability with


peers and supervisors was helpful. Graduate
students and graduate program coordinators
need to consider the helpfulness of organizing
thesis support groups.
In the present study, 45% of the participants acknowledged the facilitating theme of
General preparation in research and writing.
General preparation included having related
job experiences, writing courses, reading literature, completing required courses, selecting a
suitable supervisor, and recruiting committed
participants. Similarly, 60% of the participants
stated that Lack of understanding of the thesis writing process was hindering; this theme
included: the lack of knowledge in the research
topic, the thesis process, research methodology,
and supervisor selection. Any of these deficiencies could create problems for the students, if
there were no intervention or remediation.
Theoretical Model
According to Wong (1998a), both causal
attribution and existential attribution are important in the domain of achievement behavior. The former concerned with the cause(s)
attributed to an outcome and the latter concerned with the reason or purpose (p.275).
Both types of attribution are relevant for academic achievement. Weiner (1979, 1985) has
shown that causal attribution can affect expectancy and outcome. For example, if a student
attributes a negative outcome to stable factors,
such as lack of ability or task difficulty would
contribute to thesis non-completion. Wong
(1998a) has demonstrated that the existential
attributions of intrinsic motivation in learning education and the extrinsic motivation of
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career goals would increase academic success


and contribute to thesis completion. The present findings clearly support both Weiners and
Wongs attribution models.
In addition to the existential attributions
of positive meaning and purpose, resourcefulness can also facilitate thesis completion. Kennett and Stedwill (1996) stated that people
with resourcefulness skills are most likely to
persist, try hard, and achieve their goals despite the difficulties they encounter (p. 180).
In contrast, those with low resourcefulness
skills are most likely to give up.
Contributions and limitations
This study provides the most comprehensive list of facilitating and hindering factors for
thesis completion in the literature to date. This
study also provides a unique perspective from
students who are in different stages of the thesis writing process. Their experiences can serve
as a helpful guide for future graduate students
and thesis supervisors, so that they can avoid
the pitfalls and focus on the facilitating factors.
The results have important implications
for meaning-centered counselling (Wong,
1998b). First of all, the study showed that having a sense of passion and intrinsic interest is an
important key to thesis completion. Secondly,
having a clear direction or life goal will provide added motivation for pursuing and completing postgraduate education. Finally, to improve supervisory relationship, it is important
to achieve some level of mutual understanding.
This can be achieved through a clarification
of intended meanings regarding expectations
www.ExistentialPsychology.org

and preferences. Since unresolved conflicts between supervisors and graduate students exact
a heavy toll on both parties, the study provides
the much needed information on how to prevent conflicts and improve working relationships.
The small sample size limits the external validity. Furthermore, there is insufficient
number of participants in each category. For
example, there are 19 Masters students but
only one Ph.D. student. This study also did not
compare in detail the responses from students
in different disciplines. For example, science
students tend to relate theses to their lab experience while social science students tend to
concentrate on the writing process. This study
also lacked the perspective of the supervisors
since the result is merely based on graduate
students perspectives.
Future research
There are many possible future research
projects that can be derived from this study.
For example, one can take the specific facilitating or hindering factors to test whether it is
valid for graduate students in different fields,
genders, or cultures. This can also open the
door for a more comprehensive dissertation
study on the topic of thesis completion. A detailed comparison between Masters and Ph.D.
programs might also be beneficial. Since this
study is based on graduate students perspective, a critical incidents methodology can be
applied to gain insight from supervisors perspective.

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